An article at TechTree reports that according to IDC's Worldwide Handheld QView, shipments of handheld devices fell nearly 20 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2004 to 2.8 million units. This was the fourth successive quarter of decline. For all of 2004, shipments of handheld devices was just 9.2 million units, a decrease of 13 percent over 2003's shipments.
Meanwhile, IDC reports that mobile phone purchases were the highest ever. Worldwide mobile phone shipments were 194.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2004, growing 24 percent year over year. For the full year 2004, these shipments increased 29.3 percent over 2003.
The problem, of course, is that try as they might, handhelds haven't been able to get past being a PIM. They're standalone devices that don't interact in significant ways. Adding Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is really too little, too late.
People buy phones to talk to other people and that's a much more popular pastime than managing your to-do list. Of course, phones do more than that, but I heard Jupiter Research Analyst Michael Gartenberg speak a year or so ago on this topic. According to Jupiter's research, people mostly by phones for the phone. Go figure.
I think that the reason that people buy phones for the phone is that's the one part of the device that the mobile carriers can't ruin with their attempts to lock people into their network. I find the Web experience on most mobile services to be abysmal and that's not because of small form factor. It's because they try to keep you in their walled garden and stuff ringtones and wallpaper down your throat.
At some point, I hope that my phone, with an integrated PIM, will be able to do some simple groupware tasks like coordinating the scheduling of a conference call, but that's not likely to happen in the current climate. Until then, people will continue to buy phones for talking.